Multimedia Journalism

All stories are have been published on Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine about life and culture in Ithaca, NY.

Federal grant helps create more agritourism initiatives
by Sara Kim
May 3, 2016

With more than 400 farms within 40 miles and more restaurants per capita than New York City, it is no wonder Ithaca, New York, is ranked as the sixth foodiest town in America by Bon Appétit magazine, according to an agri-culinary tourism website, Ithaca Fork.

Now, with a new grant, Tompkins County is focusing on its agritourism efforts by increasing farm sales and helping farmers prepare for visitors, according to the USDA project description file.

Agritourism is a way to promote the area’s economic development through emphasis on visits to local farms and established agriculture sites.

In 2015, Tompkins County received a $49,390 Agricultural Marketing Service Farmers Market Promotion Program grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. Thomas Knipe, senior planner and tourism coordinator at the Tompkins County Planning Department, said the department plans to distribute the grant in several ways in order to continue agritourism efforts in the area.

“This summer and next summer, the grant will also support cooperative extension to provide direct technical assistance to 40 farms,” Knipe said.

He said one strategy toward developing agritourism is through training programs for local farmers, where they will learn about how to become a part of the growing agritourism industry.

“We’ll actually go out to those farms, talk with the farmers, look at their business operation, and help them think through the next steps for improving agritourism,” Knipe said.

Kristy Mitchell, former integrated marketing manager for the Ithaca and Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said New York State is an agriculture hub, and through agritourism, there are opportunities to showcase areas with an agricultural focus for visitors to visit and communities to benefit.

“In this community, in particular, agritourism is an opportunity to promote economic development by bringing outside visitors to experience farms and restaurants that are fueled by local farms,” she said.

Melissa Madden, owner of the Good Life Farm, said her farm is an established destination rather than a farm because farming and hospitality are two different industries. She said the implementation of the Finger Lakes Cider House on her farm is an agritourism destination.

“And our tasting room falls squarely in the hospitality industry, so by opening a hospitality site, we are required to be both farmers and bartenders and restaurant owners so it’s a totally different business than owning a farm,” Madden said.

Knipe said agritourism is a way to represent the goals of the 2020 Tompkins County Strategic Tourism plan, which are to promote economic development and local quality of life simultaneously through similar investments.

Knipe said Ithaca is a place with both a cultural and natural landscape, which would be supported through successful farm businesses.

“We want farmers to be successful, so that they can keep that land in farming,” he said. “And of course, people who live here also get to enjoy the agritourism experiences that are developed the same way visitors might so it adds to quality of life.”

Greenhouses will supplement academic learning
by Sara Kim and Kayla Dwyer
May 2, 2016

A new greenhouse, outlined with orange plastic cones, will be constructed by May 2016 as a tool for teachers across all disciplines at a vocational school in Tompkins County.
A new greenhouse, outlined with orange plastic cones, will be constructed by May 2016 as a tool for teachers across all disciplines at a vocational school in Tompkins County.

Just outside the office of Anthony DiLucci, director of career and technical education at the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services, is an open green space next to some playground structures.

Plastic cones on the grass mark the outlines of where a new greenhouse will be built to serve as a tool for educators across multiple programs at TST BOCES, a vocational school for high school juniors and seniors from nine regional schools, next fall. The construction crew broke ground on April 25, and DiLucci expects the construction to be completed by the end of May 2016.

He is calling the project the “Greenhouse to Table” initiative, much like the “Farm to Bistro” curriculum at Tompkins Cortland Community College, with which TST BOCES has a close relationship.

“A number of years ago when they designed their farm to bistro model, it dawned on me that that might be just another real strong connection between TST BOCES and TC3,” DiLucci said. “What better way to get a stronger connection than to recreate their farm to bistro model in a much smaller way.”

The new greenhouse will be a tool for teachers to use in programs such as culinary arts, food service, animal science, outdoor environmental studies and any other programs in which educators find a relevant use for the greenhouse.

“The concept is quite simple: to involve as many CTE courses of study here with the greenhouse,” DiLucci said.

Vicky Fitzgerald, the culinary arts program teacher, sees a wide range of uses for the new greenhouse, ranging from lessons about the economic, sustainable and health benefits of locally grown foods, to the shelf life of specific vegetables and herbs.

“What we’re hoping to utilize the greenhouse for is primarily fresh herbs and spices, and the way that we think that will be helpful as far as implementing in our classroom, is helping to teach the students about quality over convenience with regard to products,” she said.  

Sara Falco, the food services teacher at TST BOCES, said she will use the greenhouse to teach students the process of growing fresh vegetables and using them within their recipes.

“This will introduce them to the world of ‘Farm to Table’ eating and cooking, and help them to learn healthy eating habits for life,” she said.

Through the greenhouse, Falco said her students will learn how to grow and care for plants, as well as teach the students the skills necessary to work in the food industry.

Students from the outdoor recreation services program will help build the greenhouse and install key infrastructure, Mike Iannello, the outdoor recreation services teacher at TST BOCES, said.

Iannello said he and his students will also partake in the the care, maintenance and re-structuring of the work space to accommodate other projects.

“It will give my students another venue for a hands-on real life work experience, and allow them to work in a new and different environment and medium,” Iannello said.

With a federal grant through the Carl D Perkins Act, meant to fund career and technical education funds, DiLucci said the school was able to secure the $16,000 necessary to purchase the greenhouse kit — the set of materials needed for the construction of the greenhouse itself. He said the greenhouse will not be very big, as it is not meant for production, but instead for learning — and for acknowledging their contribution to sustainability efforts.

“Ithaca is a very green community. It was time for us to take a look at how we might become more sensitive and more involved in the green initiatives that are going on in this community,” DiLucci said. “It’s not a huge step, but it’s a start.”

In addition, the solar panels on the roof of the automotive engineering building — managed by students — will produce enough energy to offset the costs of cooling and heating the greenhouse. DiLucci said he had the future greenhouse in mind when this solar array was being built.

“This is not intended to be a production greenhouse, but it is intended to provide our students with an understanding of agribusiness and how the development of agribusiness, and the whole notion of conservation and sustainability, could lead to positive economic development,” he said.

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Committee discusses gardening projects for Tompkins Country
by Sara Kim and Annie Uhle
April 18, 2016

Martha Gioumousis leads the meeting on April 6 by demonstrating to volunteers of the beautification program how to use basic gardening tools.
Martha Gioumousis leads the meeting on April 6 by demonstrating to volunteers of the beautification program how to use basic gardening tools.

A semi-retired business owner, Kristin Lovelace-Ross recently has more free time since decreasing her work hours. In her free time, she cares for her own flower and vegetable garden.

With the hope for meeting new community members and learning more about flower gardening, Lovelace-Ross joined the list of volunteers that will help beautify various areas of Tompkins County in order to learn more about the area’s landscapes.

Founded in 2002, the Tompkins County Community Beautification Program is supported by the Tompkins County Tourism Program and the area’s hotel room tax, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension website.

The program’s volunteer committee held their final meeting on April 6 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension to discuss upcoming plans for the spring and summer seasons. The meeting consisted of a dinner, an overview of the program, gardening safety when working close to busy streets, proper use of gardening tools, and sample projects to complete over the course of the year.

Martha Gioumousis, who led the meeting, is the coordinator of the beautification program, and she said the mission of the program is to maintain the landscape of Tompkins County and Ithaca through gardening.

“The mission is to beautify the county but specifically downtown Ithaca. Beautifying for us is planting flowers, planting shrubs, putting beautiful sites into the downtown urban area with plants.” Gioumousis said.

She said one unique aspect of the program is the number of volunteers, who display a variety of skill sets and experience levels.

“We work with so many volunteers. Many were here for the first time. They come to the program with lots of gardening experience, no gardening experience, some gardening experience and we teach them the basics of how to grow and plant plants and how to maintain the same plants,” Gioumousis said. She said she considers this the strength of the program.

At the meeting, Gioumousis highlighted the various tools the volunteers would be using throughout their work with local gardens and projects. These tools include shovels, snippers, hori hori knives and pruners, along with gloves and wheelbarrows for weeding and mulching the landscapes.


The volunteers, called the “Beautification Brigade,” work mainly with the plants located on the Commons and in city traffic medians.

Monika Roth, a supervisor of the program explained how it was formed as part of Ithaca’s Bicentennial Committee to beautify the community for the Bicentennial in 2004.

“After the Bicentennial the committee kept meeting until we finally got room tax funding to create the beautification position to coordinate plantings in the city and to work with rural communities. We have been operating the program ever since.”

Gioumousis explained how the program has grown. “We’re always growing and changing. We have bigger goals now. We have a hard time saying ‘no’ so we’re always adding new sites. “

She also mentioned the positive impact it has had on the community and the volunteers, particularly students.

“We’re bringing more and more student groups to work with us, it’s really exciting because some of these young people have never planted before. It’s really exciting to get people excited about plants, once they’ve worked on a site, it’s in the public and they can come back all summer long and see the work that they did and how it makes a difference in the downtown area.”

New York State legalizes Mixed Martial Arts competitions
by Sara Kim and Aaron Laramee
April 11, 2016

Armus Guyton, center, listens to an instructor while fighting an opponent in the cage on April 1 at the Ultimate Athletics gym.

After a nearly 20-year ban, the New York State legislature passed a bill March 22 legalizing mixed martial arts competitions in the state.

New York State first imposed the ban in 1997, a time when other states also prohibited and unregulated MMA fighting, according to the Ultimate Fighting Championship website. The UFC and a group of fighters from Mixed Martial Arts filed a lawsuit against New York State officials back in November 2011 to challenge the constitutionality of the ban, according to the UFC website.

“Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the ban infringes upon the rights of the fighters who want to publicly exhibit their skills as professionals and express themselves before a live audience, the rights of fans who would like to experience live professional MMA events, and the rights of those who train, publicize or otherwise advanced MMA in New York,” the UFC website said.

Since the recent overturn on the ban, both professional and amateur fighters will now be able to compete in MMA fights in New York.

Alex Henry, professional MMA fighter, said the legalization of MMA competitions in the state will be advantageous for the fighters for two reasons: people will be able to fight in their hometowns and people will not fight in their opponent’s hometown.

“A lot of the times, you’ll get a split decision that will go in favor of the other guy due to the fact that you’re in their hometown,” he said. “We’ve got a couple guys that take some losses due to the fact that they’re fighting in other people’s backyards.”

Henry said while the legislation will not change the overall atmosphere of the competitions, there are some issues that arise with the approved bill.

He said one problem is travel costs for out-of-state fighters to come into New York to fight others.

“They’re going to have to travel, they’re going to have to take time off of work, and it’s going to be money out of their pocket one way or another just like it was for us going to their hometown,” Henry said.

Zechariah Lange, professional MMA fighter and Muay Thai and wrestling instructor at Ultimate Athletics, said the legislation will create issues focused on money in competitions.

He said money is a distraction from the importance of MMA fighting.

“To some people, it’s money depending on where you’re coming from or whatever perspective you have on it,” Lange said. “But to me, personally, I think money is a bad factor into the equation.”

Henry said taxation is also an issue that people often forget. He said although people are happy with the results of the legislation, the bill mentions little about taxes taken during MMA fights.

“Truth of the matter is, is it costing us more than we are making off of it?” Henry said. “We’ve been so happy about it for so long, but now that it’s here, do we really want it?”

Armus Guyton, amateur MMA fighter, said fighters should be paid a lot for what they put into the sport.

“What I do know for a fact is that this is New York, so everything is taxed like crazy,” Guyton said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to take a lot of the fighters’ money, which I feel like is kind of whack.”

Henry said another issue with the bill is the level of competition presented in the state.

At the amateur level, Henry said, fighters from upstate New York fight others from the area, but at the professional level, fighters ultimately want to compete at different competitions outside their hometowns.

“The problem that I see now is that guys like me personally, we want to fight higher competition that would be, in my opinion, out of state,” he said. “The problem with it being legal in New York State now is we’re going to fight a lot of amateurs that are just going pro.”

Guyton said MMA fighting is not only a sport, but also a lifestyle.

“MMA, to me, is a great sport that allows you to find out who you really are,” Guyton said. “You’re going to learn everything you need to know about yourself in a cage.”

Path to spirituality: The Consciousness Club hosts yoga session
by Sara Kim and Gabby Jorio
March 28, 2016

Neko Three Sixty instructs a yoga class for Cornell University’s Consciousness Club on March 23.

Neko Three Sixty twists her body, exhaling and inhaling. Her steady voice fills the dimly lit room as she instructs a yoga class. To stress the importance of spirituality and meditation, the Consciousness Club at Cornell University hosted a yoga session on March 23 at Willard Straight Hall.

The club, which emphasizes breathing techniques and meditation tactics, welcomes all members whether they are new to yoga or practice yoga on a regular basis.

Kelsey Kruse, senior electric and chemical engineering student at Cornell, attended the session for the first time, yet has been practicing yoga for years.

“I guess it’s how it allows me to explore my body, sort of like connect with where I am, mentally and spiritually,” Kruse said about yoga. “I also love that it’s restorative.”

She said the session allowed her to feel more at peace with her body.

Three Sixty said yoga is not only a spiritual practice but also a meditative practice.

“From my perspective, yoga is about the union so a lot of yoga practicing will shut off your mind,” she said.

Her role as a yoga instructor is to teach others the importance of breathing rhythms in order to highlight our existence with the Earth.

“There becomes this spaciousness and just the connection to the breath that allows for an opportunity for things to happen that you just don’t realize,” Three Sixty said. “And I really do think the breath is really what tethers us to the Earth.”

Meenakshi Sundaram Manivannan, president of the Consciousness Club, said the purpose of the organization to serve the community with breathing and meditation techniques.

“It’s actually a forum for people to connect and practice together,” he said. “One thing that makes this club unique is that there is no other club on campus that addresses the universal nature of spirituality.”

Three Sixty said she feels that spirituality is like a paradox for people trying to internalize their feelings and trying to let go of some of their emotions.

“And that’s why I also bring it back to the breath because the breath reminds us of our inherent balance and the juxtaposition of when you are inhaling you are receiving and when you exhale you are letting go,” she said.

Manivannan said spirituality is connected with an individual’s own fundamental nature, which is associated with happiness from some event or something that is happening in the future.

“Happiness is a state of being,” he said. “And that is being spiritual.”

He said although yoga practices postures, it also represents union.

“Union means connection between everything and its interconnectedness,” he said. “That’s what yoga is all about and I feel that is our special nature.”

Manivannan said it is important for an individual to practice spirituality on a regular basis because it helps one understand the equanimity between things you desire.

“Because it’s what adds juice to your life,” he said. “It is what gives you a lot of self-centeredness.”

Although yoga is an internalized process, Three Sixty said, it is important to recognize that yoga is also about letting go.

“You can’t just keep breathing out,” she said. “It just won’t work. You can’t just keep focusing and focusing and focusing, and you can’t just keep letting it all loose.”

She said spirituality and religion is not about differentiating between what is right and what is wrong.

“It’s coming from a place of wanting to facilitate a place of deeper knowing,” she said.” But it can get lost if we read too much into the semantics of what it is.”

She said because spirituality is a path, it looks different for each individual.

“If you’re not chasing the past or running toward the future, and you’re breathing and you’re present,” Three Sixty said. “Then you are just in this moment and for whatever reason, there’s a thing of bliss right here.”

Cornell University Athlete Ally hosts FIFA World Cup champion
by Sara Kim and David Stern
March 21, 2016

Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, spoke about her experiences as an LGBT athlete on March 10 at Cornell University.
Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, spoke about her experiences as an LGBT athlete on March 10 at Cornell University.

Six-hundred and twenty people packed the Newman Arena at Cornell University to hear Olympic gold medalist and FIFA World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe speak about LGBT inclusion in athletics on March 10.

The Cornell chapter of Athlete Ally invited Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, to share her experience as a professional soccer player and as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights within athletics.

Rapinoe said she has accepted her sexuality and is comfortable and proud with being labeled as a gay athlete.

“For me, this is who I am. I live it very openly,” Rapinoe said. “I am so happy that I came out, it’s the best thing that I have ever done for myself and to have that be part of my label means a lot to me.”

Cassandra Poudrier, president of the Athlete Ally chapter at Cornell University, said she chose Rapinoe to speak at the university rather than other LGBT athletes because of her large public presence in the media over the past year.

“Being an LGBT athlete myself and also just having seen a lot of my friends struggle, I think that for me, I have a chance to make something happen,” Poudrier said.

She said she would like to create an atmosphere for her friends and teammates to be the best they can be by taking the pressure off of themselves and focusing on the game.

“I think that Athlete Ally just needs to keep getting involved on campuses,” Poudrier said. “Starting those conversations on every campus would be great.”

Rapinoe said she brings awareness to LGBT athletes by talking about it as much as she can. She said for college athletes, the space to discuss LGBT awareness is difficult.

“I think seeing me and seeing the way that I speak about it and the way that I am comfortable with it can give them a little bit of a boost or just someone to look at that makes it a little bit easier for them,” she said.

Brian Patchcoski, associate dean of students and director of the LGBT resource center at Cornell, said collaboration between Athlete Ally, Cornell and the Ithaca community was key to making this event possible.

“There’s huge support,” he said, noting the list of sponsors for the event and the diverse crowd of students, faculty, staff and local community members. “We have lots of work to do in athletics so I think people are interested to see how we can make sport more inclusive.”

He said this collaboration across campus and the greater Ithaca community has been one of the major achievements of Poudrier and Athlete Ally at Cornell.

“Athlete Ally has really led the way in making sure that things were coming together in a way that is not just athletics but across the Cornell community and making this something important for the entire Cornell but also Ithaca community,” Patchcoski said.

Patchcoski said the event was a “wonderful success” and the dialogue provided by Rapinoe will help further expand the conversation surrounding LGBT inclusivity in athletics.

“As Megan has noted, women in sport is one piece of this but we’ve got gender dynamics still happening,” he said. “I think we have a lot of work yet to do.”

The Ithaca Public Education Initiative hosts 18th annual Adult Spelling Bee
by Sara Kim and Will Uhl
March 8, 2016

From left: Karen Trible, Mark Chao and Suzanne Nussbaum of the IthacaSTEM Hexaplexes present the correct spelling of the word “littoral” to win the 18th annual Adult Spelling Bee.

A hush falls over the gymnasium.


Eight teams scribble furiously, bee-themed antennae bouncing to and fro. By comparison, previous challenges like “dodecahedron” and “antebellum” look like softballs.

After thirty seconds, the audience applauds.

The IthacaSTEM Hexaplexes come out on top as the only team to finish the first round without a single mistake: S-U-P-E-R-L-A-T-I-V-E-L-Y.

With four intense rounds and a final battle royale, 32 teams competed for the Fuzzy Bee trophy at the Ithaca Public Education Initiative’s 18th annual Adult Spelling Bee held on March 6 at Ithaca High School’s Wellness Center Gym. Free and open to the public, the community event raises funds for teachers in the Ithaca City School District.

Each team comprised three team members who worked together to write down the word before the buzzer. This year followed a new format based on Montana’s Bozeman School foundation that was designed to speed up the pace and challenge teams to race and write the correct spelling simultaneously instead of taking turns.

Jennifer Biloski, chairwoman of the spelling bee committee, said this year’s format will not only speed up the pace but also address the issue of fairness.

In previous years, the spelling bee was conducted in a way where teams had to spell out the word verbally with each team receiving a different word, as a result, members complained that some words were easier to spell than others.

“This year, we have changed the format, so the pronouncer will give a word and every single team will write the same word down on a whiteboard,” Biloski said.

Mark Chao, a member of the winning team the IthacaSTEM Hexaplexes, said the new format provides more than one opportunity to advance to the next round.

“And it’s nice that you get eliminated twice,” Chao said. “So if you get unlucky with some kind of really hard word, you have another chance.”

Suzanne Nussbaum, also a member of the IthacaSTEM Hexaplexes, said the secret to winning is having luck and language.

“I’ve never been in a spelling bee before, but I think we have the secret weapon, which is that, I’m a Latin teacher and I’ve also studied Greek,” she said. “And it looks like Mark [Chao] took years of Latin and Greek also.”

She said the new format was fair in the sense that every team had the same set of words.

The event is the IPEI’s largest annual fundraiser.

“This is their signature fundraising event. Last year, they gave out over ninety thousand dollars in teacher grants,” Biloski said.

She said these grants help improve education for children attending schools within the Ithaca City School District.

The IPEI is a nonprofit organization that works to raise money for the Ithaca City School District and its teachers, according to the IPEI website.

Christine Sanchirico, IPEI’s executive director, said in a press release the grants allow teachers to connect ICSD schools with a diverse community of students.

Svante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca, said the IPEI is important to the community because it helps raise money and contribute toward Ithaca’s education programs.

He said with the funds provided by the IPEI, teachers have the ability to purchase extra classroom supplies, to take students on educational field trips and create a special learning environment that goes above and beyond the base minimum requirements of being a teacher.

“The IPEI helps teachers take on special projects and do special events that otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” Myrick said. “It makes the difference between a great school and an excellent one when teachers have the ability and flexibility to go above and beyond.”

Cornell Maplewood Apartment project gathers community input
by Sara Kim and Ramya Vijayagopal
February 29, 2016

The Ithaca Town Board gathered Feb. 23 for a presentation on the Maplewood Apartments Project.

In an attempt to stem overcrowding for Cornell graduate school housing, members of the community gathered at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the basement of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church to learn more about the Maplewood Graduate Student Housing project and provide feedback.

The project is a collaboration between Cornell and EdR, a company that deals with collegiate housing, as well as a design team consisting of local firm Whitham Design and international firm Torti Gallas and Partners, Inc.

Maplewood Apartments, which is currently near 100 percent capacity, will expand from having roughly 360 beds to having between 850 and 950 beds.

Jeremy Thomas, senior director of real estate at Cornell University, said Cornell would retain the land for the development, while EdR would manage the property and negotiate leases with the tenants. Thomas said the process would be collaborative and that the University would remain involved after an audience member voiced concern about “absentee landlordism.”

Sivakumar Venkataramani, a senior associate of Torti Gallas and Partners, gave a presentation about the preliminary goals of the project, as well as a rough sketch of what the property might look like. The property will contain a mix of building types such as townhouses, apartment buildings, stacked flats. The presenters all asked for community feedback.

“This is our first idea that we conceptualized,” Venkataramani said, adding that community input could change and enhance the project as it moved toward the approval stage.

The area where the project will be developed, a 16-acre lot bordered by Maple Ave and Mitchell Street, was first developed to house veterans after World War II. Those properties remained until Maplewood Apartments were built in 1989. The buildings are now being replaced because it is more cost-effective to do so than to repair the property, Thomas said.

Jeffrey Resetco, vice president of real estate development and construction at EdR, said the goal is to obtain approval for the project by Fall of 2016, and move residents in during the summer of 2018.

“This is the beginning of a process,” he said. “We are very interested in building something that is going to sustain the residents and be a part of the community for a long time.”

The company is still in the process of gathering information relevant to the development of the project. Resetco said a traffic study was currently underway that would provide insight about how many parking spaces and permits will be needed and how to safely incorporate the influx of people and pedestrians in the area. An additional consideration was maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood, since Belle Sherman Elementary School and a group of single-family homes neighbor the complex.

Venkataramani invited audience members to attend an upcoming meeting with Cornell’s Student Council, anticipated to be scheduled for the second week of March.

Community members also raised the issue of sustainability. The presenters said they were still gathering the information required to make a decision about sustainability initiatives.

“Sustainability is a priority to Cornell,” Thomas said. “We are always looking for ways to incorporate clean energy.”

Maplewood Apartments will remain under the jurisdiction of Cornell University Campus police, and will also be equipped with the blue light emergency system used at both Ithaca College and Cornell University. EdR will have Community Assistants live in the apartments and assist residents with lock-outs or maintenance issues. There will also be staff members working in the apartment facilities building six days a week, Resetco said.

Thomas and Resetco hosted a Q&A session after the presentation. Most of the concerns raised were about safety and encouraging a sense of community. As they filtered out of the room, numerous attendees of the meeting thanked the presenters for considering their feedback.

Life Changing Labs organizes first Make-a-thon at Cornell University
by Sara Kim and Arlana Shikongo
February 22, 2016

A student puts his hands to work creating his prototype at the Life Changing Labs’ Make-a-thon.

Life Changing Labs, a nonprofit organization, hosted their first make-a-thon event at Cornell University this past weekend. Fourteen teams and 120 people participated in the event.

Life Changing Labs is run by a team of students from the various Cornell schools to represent the university’s diverse and creative entrepreneurial offerings, according to the organization’s website.  

The LC. Make-a-thon, a day of hands-on prototype making and hacking, brought together engineer students, design students and business students to find and propose life-changing solutions using these prototyping techniques.

Michael Raspuzzi, managing director of Life Changing Labs, fifth-year architecture student and event coordinator said, “This make-a-thon is an opportunity to create by building a solution and to meet awesome people. It’s a launch pad for students to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it to making a physical project.”

The three-day event, from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21, began with a pre-hack welcome and prompt delivery. The objective for the make-a-thon was “Proposing Solutions for Smart Living.”

“So basically the prompt was that smart living and the smart home revolution hasn’t really panned out like we’d like it to,” said Andrew Moorman, a fifth-year architecture student and tech lead and coordinator for the event. He said the theme was inspired by discussions the group had earlier.

Moorman said the prototypes can be anything.

“This can be anything from home life, so it can be around a space, a room and activity; or it’s just your daily routine. It’s open-ended enough that everyone can pitch their own intervention into this general scenario, but it’s also a common denominator that everyone has experience with,” he said.

Moorman said one goal of this LC. Make-a-thon is cross-disciplinary interaction.

“We had a pretty great heterogenous turnout. It’s everyone from engineering to information science and computer science, to design and even human ecology, architecture, and the arts and sciences,” Moorman said.

He said the opportunity is a really good intersection of every discipline and major across the university.

Raspuzzi discusses how the idea came to fruition and what went into putting it together.

“Last summer, Life Changing Labs hosted two programs; an incubator program for university students who are trying to fund their own venture and the high school program that combined computer science entrepreneurship and design,” he said.

Raspuzzi said the idea of make-a-thon was to figure out how to condense that into a weekend that would give students the opportunity to work on these kinds of projects.

“I applied for a community funding grant last semester to get this whole thing started. We assembled a team. We have six amazing Cornell students who have helped get the event up and running and then 15 mentors: local, professional, professors, masters students all helping all of these student teams,” he explained about the preparation for the event.

Participants are provided with all the hardware and technology they need.

On Saturday, Feb. 20, participants had four hack and build events. Jimmy Chen, a freshman computer science major in the College of Engineering explained his group’s prototype.

“What we really wanted to make here was, we wanted to make something that would change the world. The point of this make-a-thon is to create a product that addresses a large audience, and can also be easily marketable and pay for itself in the long run,” he said.

The group’s prototype was an in-home smart-light system that controls lights using a motor in order to curb electricity costs, which Chen said accounts for about three percent of spending in the United States.

“We’re going to have light sensors set up both on the outside of the house and the inside. So what’s going to happen is there is going to be a motor that will be connected to the blinds of your house. We’ll also have something that connects to your light fixtures and dims or brightens them. So, we’re going to detect the light coming from the outside, as well as the inside, and depending on, your house will brighten accordingly,” he said.

Chen estimates his project would probably end up costing about one hundred dollars to install in the house, but he noted that over the course of three or four months, that money could be saved.

“So we think this idea really has potential for large-scale use,” he said.

The most recent event on Feb. 21 had the top five university and top five high school student teams presenting their projects as pitches to the panel of judges, professionals and local alumni. Each pitch lasted three to six minutes.

Black Lives Matter Ithaca plans to spread awareness to local schools
By Sara Kim and Taylor Zambrano
February 8, 2016

A panelist performs poetry at a community gathering for Black Lives Matter Ithaca on Feb. 3 at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.

Community members and students gathered the evening of Feb. 3. at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School to engage in a discussion about the founding of Black Lives Matter Ithaca.

Russell Rickford, a professor at Cornell University who specializes in black political culture post-World War II and the black radical tradition, was one of about eight speakers who spoke at the rally.

The rally was the first official meeting of the Black Lives Matter Ithaca Chapter, and community members and students were able to engage with members of the Black Lives Matter movement and ask questions about how they could become involved.

“New waves of anti-racist activism are sweeping campuses and communities across the country. How do we help sustain this energy and channel it to a positive change in our area?” Rickford said.

With the state of unrest sweeping across the nation among black members of the community, especially on school campuses, students have been protesting and bringing awareness to address their concerns for their safety and human rights.

Ithaca College has hosted a series of protests and rallies across campus within the past 4 months addressing the increasing racial tensions and issues that many students have come forth with.

Before the rally, Cornell University had hosted a separate event at 4:45 p.m. Feb. 3 at Sage Chapel on Cornell University’s campus. The co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, participated in a panel discussion that was open to everyone.

Reverend Dr. Kenneth I. Clarke, Sr., Director of Cornell United Religious Work, said the event was filled to capacity with a long line between 100 and 200 students waiting outside to attend.

The public elementary schools are slowly beginning to become involved in these discussions about civil rights as well.

The Tompkins County Office of Human Rights’ hosted their 28th Annual Human Rights Arts Competition during the month of September, for students from kindergarten to grade 12, and each one was tasked with creating visual art or poetry reflecting the theme based on the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Black Lives Matter Ithaca chapter discussed its plans to involve community members in the worldwide discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Ultimately, if it’s going to be a sustainable movement, it has to be indigenous, it has to be grassroots, and it has to be built by the people themselves,” Rickford said.

The event began with a few speeches and spoken word poetry performances from the group’s members.

Cornell graduate student Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo performed a spoken word piece about her own experiences growing up and when she began to realize the racial tensions and inequality surrounding her.

“Being back in this place has forced me to question a lot of things and think about what is my identity, what does my blackness mean here in Ithaca, what does my blackness mean period,” Lumumba-Kasongo said.

However, she said that Ithaca’s racial climate and how issues within the community are addressed are beginning to change positively.

“I felt isolated, but my sense is that students now have a better sense of how what’s happening to them is connected to things that are happening nationally, like college struggles or struggles that have happened historically,” Lumumba-Kasongo said.

Clarke said as an Ithaca community member, he had noticed that his children would come back from school with stories about racial inequalities they had faced there.

“As a parent who had two kids graduate from this high school who are now in their mid-20’s, my wife and I certainly had to deal with some issues with some of the teachers in this district because of their racist practices, the way in which they dealt with our son or our daughter.

He said as a parent, he had to address those issues.

“It’ll be interesting in seeing how the Black Lives Matter chapter here evolves in the extent to which public school students become involved in it.”

At the end of the performances and speeches at the rally, the floor was open for community members to openly give feedback and ask questions about how they could help support the movement and its members.

One particular community member, Isaiah Flores, gave his opinion regarding Rickford’s opening comments of the rally, as well as his own feedback for how he plans to help and participate in the Black Lives Matter Ithaca chapter.

“So as a white person, they have a lot of unpacking to do in terms of what it means to be white,” Flores said. “So in order to be helpful to the cause, one needs to be educated and show up for these types of events and obviously do as much as you can on your own to educate yourself and come to the table with something to offer.”